As I mentioned in my last post, there are a few exceptions that students can consider to reduce or eliminate borrowing altogether, including programs like the National Health Service Corp (NHSC) or the Armed Forces Health Profession Scholarship Program (HPSP). But even these opportunities are limited.
For example, the NHSC is a federal scholarship program that annually gives 80-90 scholarships nationally that pay for medical school (tuition, books and a living stipend) in exchange for the student’s later obligation and commitment to practice in areas of need (i.e., family medicine, general internal medicine, general pediatrics, Med/Peds, OB/GYN and Psychiatry). The HPSP is a congressional program that authorizes the military branches (Army, Navy and Air Force) to pay the costs of medical school (tuition, books and a living stipend) for approximately 200 students nationally per military branch in exchange for the student to practice as a military doctor.
Military recruiters regularly visit our medical school offices to offer information about the HPSP scholarships and ask for opportunities to make medical students aware of the scholarships. The HPSP is currently a very lucrative opportunity for a medical student. In the last few years, each of the military branches has been able to offer interested medical students a $20,000 sign on bonus. This is in addition to the military scholarship covering tuition, fees, health insurance in addition to reimbursing all costs related to required books and supplies. A living stipend of $2,108 (based on 2011-2012 academic year stipends) is also issued monthly while in medical school. Most HPSP candidates will graduate and go directly into a military residency program where they often receive salaries that are approximately $20,000 above the civilian residency programs. Later, when they go into their practice years with the military, they make less money, but what they earn is generally devoid of any commitments to paying off medical school debt and also receives a generous housing allowance.
Clearly, there are a lot of benefits to doing the HPSP, but there are also drawbacks. Drawbacks that I have heard on more than one occasion are the loss of independence until you have completed your stint with the military, the small chance that you may not secure a residency in the area of your interest or it may be delayed by a year of more. You can imagine that you are making a commitment of at least 11-13 years to the military when you consider medical school (4 years), residency training (3-5 years) and the practice years (4 years). Being a military spouse can be difficult at times.
In my next post, I’ll discuss the National Health Service Corps.